In one of my letters to Tristan a few years back, I wrote about expectations. I wrote about how expectation dehumanizes, coerces, and focuses on behavior at the expense of relationship. I wrote about the fact that I hope to have no expectations with regard to him and his behavior.
I still believe everything I wrote in that letter, and my hope for you is the same – though I realize now that my expectation of myself expressed in that letter was unrealistic. I have, and will likely continue to have, expectations of both of you, simply out of habit, or urgency, or just the fact that I’m sadly not as good at this stuff as I’d sometimes like to think I am.
So despite my best efforts, there will be times when I burden you and your brother with expectations. And there are certainly times when others will do so as well . . . sometimes for no other reason than that they haven’t thought through the ramifications, but most of the time because they simply don’t care.
And in those moments when someone is placing such a burden on you – whether it is me or anyone else – I hope you baffle them.
Let me explain a bit: I’m not saying I hope you always disappoint those who expect something of you – though sometimes you will. I’m not saying I hope you always live up to their expectations either – though sometimes you will. I’m certainly not saying I hope you always exceed their expectations for you – though sometimes you’ll do that, too.
Much like I said in my last letter, my hope is that you don’t approach another’s expectations – mine or anyone else’s – feeling compelled to act because of that expectation. There are several ways this can play out: You can feel compelled to do something expected of you, in order to live up to the expectation. You can feel compelled not to do something expected of you, in order to assert your independence from the one who expects it. You can feel compelled to do more than what’s expected of you, in order to prove yourself to the one who expects it.
But every single one of these is unhealthy, because every single one of them orients you to act on behalf of someone else.
My desire for you is different. As I said in my last letter, I don’t want you to do things for me. I want you to do them for you.
And living like that is going to mean baffling expectations – including mine – because it will mean learning how to make your own choices on a case by case basis, whether to live up to an expectation, exceed it, or ignore it altogether.
That’s a hard thing for a parent – probably any parent – to write. Because of course in those moments when I have expectations they are going to be things that I think are good and right and beneficial to you.
But as hard is it will be for me to see or understand in the moment, there will be times when learning to choose for yourself is more good and right and beneficial.
And finding that balance is hard, because sometimes there will come a moment when I need you to get your shoes on so we can go, and you’ll want to be off playing or reading one of your books. There will be a moment when I need you to stay in your high chair long enough for me to gulp down dinner, and you’ll be wailing for me to let you down. There will be more moments like these, involving more – and more complex – issues the older you get.
And in those moments we will both have something to realize: You’ll have to realize that some things just have to be done, not because it’s expected of you, but because you’re not the only member of our family and sometimes we’ll have to make choices you don’t like, simply in order to get dinner on the table, or get to someplace we need to be, or continue functioning without collapsing from exhaustion.
And at the same time, I’ll have to realize that, when those moments come, I asked for it. I can’t expect you to both comply with my expectations at my whim, and learn how to baffle expectations. I can’t expect you to exhibit unquestioning obedience for me, while learning how to make wise, independent decisions for yourself.
And I hope that we can talk through those moments together. I hope that we can learn together which of those moments are important to work through, and which can be let go. I hope we can learn to hear each other and value each other as people, more than we value what we want accomplished in any given moment.
Because more than anything else, I want you to know that I hear you. I value you. I love you.